With the 2010-2011 season happily lasting much longer than the last few seasons, we find ourselves in the month of June before releasing our 2010-2011 Final Rankings. This season brought a new word into the Lightning prospect fans' vocabulary: "patience." With only Dana Tyrell  graduating this season, the Lightning made sure their top prospects had a little more time on the vine to ripen. At the same time, though, attrition cost the Lightning some of its better prospects, as was the case with Mitch Fadden  who allowed off-the-ice issues to cost him a spot in the organization. And, other prospects had lackluster seasons that led us to believe that perhaps the chances of their NHL futures were limited. Towards that end, we made the editorial decision to trim our rankings down from their typical 25 to 20 for this Final Rankings. We will be raising the list back to 25 after the NHL Entry Draft in a few weeks when we release a supplement to these rankings.
The rules are simple: any skater prospect who was under 24 years of age on opening night of the Lightning's season and has played less than 41 NHL games in any single season and less than 82 career NHL games is eligible for the rankings. This excludes, for instance, Blair Jones . For goaltenders, any netminder who has earned less than 30 NHL decisions in any single season and less than 41 career NHL decisions and was under 24 years of age on opening night is eligible for the rankings. That excludes Cedrick Desjardins , for instance, who turned 25 in September. The exception to these basic rules are NCAA based players, who are considered eligible prospects for the duration of their college careers regardless of age.
1.) RW Brett Connolly , Prince George (WHL)
Connolly didn't answer all of the questions we had about his game in the 2010-2011 season, but he did, for the most part, answer the most important one. After missing most of the 2009-2010 campaign, the 2010 #6 overall pick appeared in 59 games for the Cougars, up from 16 the year prior. His 46 goals and 73 points are in line with the kind of junior production that was expected from him, although we expected his assist totals to be a little more in balance. The biggest area of improvement we'd still like to see in Connolly's game is along the wall and in the high traffic areas. Being a star in Prince George, he's not asked to be the first man on the puck as much, but in the NHL there are no passengers.
2.) RW Carter Ashton , Tri-City (WHL)
Ashton, the #29 overall pick in the 2009 draft, is a legitimate threat to make the Lightning out of camp next season. There's probably not a more bust-proof prospect in the Lightning's cadre of young players, because Ashton plays such a simple, honest, north-south game. As he showed in exhibition games with the Lightning in the Fall and over and over again in the WHL this season with Regina and Tri-City, he's not afraid to get dirty along the wall and he will go to the net. His 33 goals and 71 points in 62 games were a career high and he made his first appearance for Canada's U20 World Junior Championship, where he won a Silver Medal. Most scouts compare Ashton to current Lightning forward Ryan Malone , but we think Ashton's got more burst, and maybe a little less in the crafty stickhandling department. Still, his meat and potatoes game is very appealing and we could see him playing in Tampa Bay as early as next year.
3.) RW Richard Panik , Guelph (OHL)
Here's what we know about Richard Panik: when he wants to dominate, he's dominant. Some will rightfully criticize a 27 goal, 56 points in 51 game campaign for a 19-20 year old player in a league where he had such a clear strength advantage over just about every player he faced. Then again, over the past 2 years at the U20 World Championships, Panik has scored 13 goals in 12 games for Slovakia. When he wants to dominate, he's dominant. Possessing great upper-body strength, skill, and skating ability, Panik can beat you just about every way imaginable. He can overpower you along the wall. He can drop the gloves. He can stickhandle through defenders or blow right them, and he can finish, too. Panik is a serious darkhorse contender for a spot in Tampa Bay next season for just that reason, because when he shows up to camp, this Marian Hossa clone might just decide he wants to dominate.
4.) G Dustin Tokarski , Norfolk (AHL)
Here's what we think we learned about Dustin Tokarski this season: he's not the kind of guy who can be as successful in a tandem goaltending situation. Tokarski struggled for much of the first half of the year while tandeming with Cedrick Desjardins, but when Desjardins went down with a shoulder injury and Tokarski took over the full-time duties, that old Tic magic from Spokane and from his rookie campaign in Norfolk started to take over. From January 15th on, Tokarski went 15-9-3 and in the playoffs he posted a very strong .924 save percentage against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which was the best team in the league during the AHL's regular season. We still think he's the goaltender of the future. We still see a lot of Marty Turco in his game, albeit without the puckhandling ability. What needs to happen next is for Tokarski to be the #1 goaltender in the AHL for a full season and prove he can be the man over the course of an entire year.
5.) C Alex Killorn , Harvard (ECACHL)
Readers of this blog know that BoltProspects staff often wonders if Killorn's jersey is secretly made of some sort of lightweight, black composite material that masks him from being seen by anyone in the scouting community's radar. The stealth prospect, as we've come to know him, set career highs with 15 goals and 29 points in 34 games this season for a dreadful Harvard team that was bad last year and should have been even worse with several graduating seniors and the defection of former Habs first rounder Louis Leblanc. We're done trying to predict an early departure from school for Killorn. We fully expect him to complete his degree during his senior season next year. After that? Watch out. The stealth prospect is very Brian Rolston-esque.
6.) LW Mattias Ritola , Norfolk (AHL)
After spending most of the year up with Tampa Bay and battling an inner-ear disorder that affected his hearing and balance, the former Detroit Red Wings farmhand was sent down to Norfolk where he lit up the AHL. Ritola scored 9 goals and 27 points in 17 games with the Admirals, reaffirming the scoring ability that made Steve Yzerman snag the Swedish-born winger from his old organization in the first place. There's no tomorrow after training camp in the Fall for Ritola, though. He needs to step up and win a spot on the Lightning roster, or he may find himself off on waivers again.
7.) D Mark Barberio , Norfolk (AHL)
One of the bigger surprises of the season for the Lightning's management was the play of defenseman Mark Barberio, but BoltProspects readers shouldn't be too surprised about the play of the 2008 6th round pick. Barberio posted 9 goals and 31 points with a -1 rating in 68 games in his rookie year, demonstrating the kind of hockey sense, especially in the offensive third, that made him one of the real sleepers of the 2008 draft class. The Lightning still think Barberio needs to improve his defensive zone coverage in his own third of the ice, but his ascent on the depth chart was impressive enough to make fellow prospect Ty Wishart  expendable in the Dwayne Roloson  deal. We think Barberio still needs another year or two of seasoning in the AHL, but we think he's worth the wait as a less gritty version of Craig Rivet.
8.) D Radko Gudas , Norfolk (AHL)
Another defenseman who made Ty Wishart expendable was former Everett standout Radko Gudas, who quickly became a cult hero in Norfolk this season. Gudas had 4 goals and 17 points in 76 games this year, and a +14 rating that was actually even gaudier prior to Gudas hitting the rookie wall about 2/3 of the way through the season. Fans love him for his willingness to unleash brutal hits in open ice. BoltProspects loves him because he also shows surprising mobility and latent ability to carry the puck, which makes him an interesting option to play the right defense spot in Guy Boucher's 1-3-1. Think of Gudas as a less dirty version of former NHL defenseman Darius Kasparaitis.
9.) C Tyler Johnson , Spokane (WHL)
Bonus pick time! If a player had been named MVP of the WHL playoffs and won a Memorial Cup in 2008, and then won a Gold Medal for Team USA at the 2010 U20 World Junior Championships, wouldn't it stand to reason that the NHL scouting community would pay at least some attention to that player? Not so for Tyler Johnson, who went undrafted for the second straight year this past summer. That ended up being the Tampa Bay Lightning's gain as they snapped up Johnson, who was the WHL's second leading scorer this season with 52 goals and 115 points in 71 games. Is it Johnson's size (5'9" 175 lbs) that has always made Johnson such an underdog (taken in the 11th round of the 2005 WHL Bantam Draft)? There are whispers he's even smaller than he's been listed by his WHL team, but Johnson still has blazing speed, a very polished 2-way game, and a high motor. Why wouldn't a team with Martin St. Louis  to its credit give a player like Tyler Johnson a shot? At the bare minimum, the Lightning may have signed a player of the Chris Conner ilk.
10.) C James Mullin, Fargo (USHL)
While on the topic of speedy, undersized scorers with high motors, consider Jimmy Mullin  of Fargo, who finished 7th in scoring in his rookie season in the USHL. In a league where point-a-game players are as rare as hens teeth, Mullin posted 23 goals and 60 points in 52 games to lead the Force in scoring. Mullin, who will join Miami-OH in the CCHA next season, is dynamic offensively, with great speed, great stickhandling ability, and fantastic playmaking skills, too. Listed at 160 lbs, he's going to be in the weight room pretty heavily once he gets to college, but you can't teach the kind of hands Mullin has. The 2010 4th round pick may very well have been one of the steals of that draft.
11.) D Adam Janosik , Gatineau (QMJHL)
Statistically, Adam Janosik's 2010-2011 campaign was almost identical to his campaign from a year earlier. Janosik's 7 goals, 32 points, and +17 rating were almost a mirror image of the 9 goals, 35 points, and +14 rating. Even his playoff totals were virtually identical. So what has the puckmoving Slovakian defenseman moving up our rankings? Janosik performed very well on Team Slovakia's top pairing in the U20 World Junior Championships, posting 5 assists in 6 games, and he played surprisingly well in his third of the rink. For a guy who was considered just a power play specialist when he was selected in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft, Janosik, who has drawn comparisons to Mark Streit, is coming along very nicely.
12.) D Charles Landry , Montreal (QMJHL)
Landry is another of Steve Yzerman's "bonus picks," after being signed to an entry level contract after the Traverse City prospect tournament this past Fall. Landry, who played for Lightning Head Coach Guy Boucher for Drummondville in 2008-2009, had a career-high 11 goals and 40 points in 57 games and he was a gaudy +91 over the past three seasons in Drummondville and Montreal. In Landry, the Lightning get a smart, mobile defenseman who has played Guy Boucher's 1-3-1 system and understands it intimately.
13.) G Jaroslav Janus , Norfolk (AHL)
Once upon a time, just a year ago, Jaroslav Janus had the look of a prize goaltending prospect with the ability to possibly challenge Dustin Tokarski for the mantle of "goaltender of the future" in the Lightning organization. But with Tokarski and Cedrick Desjardins tandeming in Norfolk, Janus spent most of his season playing for Florida of the ECHL, where he initially struggled to adjust to the barrage of chances that are sometimes typical of play in the ECHL's South Division. Janus eventually hit his stride, posting a respectable .912 save percentage despite having a losing 12-13-0 record before being promoted to Norfolk of the AHL after Cedrick Desjardins was lost to a shoulder injury. Unfortunately, Janus could not reduplicate the magic of his rookie season when he posted a .922 save percentage with Norfolk, going 2-5-1 with an ugly .872 save percentage, instead. Now Janus may need to be worried less about catching Tokarski and more about fending off Pat Nagle . There's not a more athletic goaltender in the Lightning organization than Janus, but he took a step backward positionally this season. He'll have to make up for that if he wants to get his stock back on solid footing.
14.) RW Alex Hutchings , Florida (ECHL)
One of the biggest disappointments of the year was the play of sparkplug winger Alex Hutchings, who was dinged early in the season and found himself playing for Florida in the ECHL where he posted a pedestrian 13 goals and 26 points in 51 games. When you consider Hutchings was an offensive juggernaut for Barrie in the OHL, posting 47 goals and 81 points in 68 games in his final junior campaign, that's surprisingly poor production. Hutchings has struggled with injuries and consistency, but when he's healthy and on he's a speedy, fiery winger who has drawn comparisons to Brian Gionta.
15.) D Geoffery Schemitsch, Owen Sound (OHL)
Geoffery Schemitsch saw his offensive production clipped in half in 2010-2011, dropping down to 20 points in 45 games after putting up 40 points in 62 games in his draft season. Following up on a campaign where he came out of nowhere to make Team Canada's U18 World Junior Championships team, we expected more of the 2010 4th rounder. When healthy, which he wasn't for much of 2010-2011, Schemitsch looks like a clone of current Lightning defenseman Mike Lundin .
16.) D Scott Jackson , Norfolk (AHL)
There hasn't been a steadier stay-at-home defenseman in the minors in the Lightning organization over the past two seasons than former 2005 Blues 2nd round pick Scott Jackson. With an influx of veteran blueliners like Troy Milam, Mike Vernace, and Mathieu Roy , Jackson's minutes declined this season after spending most of 2009-2010 on the Admirals top pair with Ty Wishart. Still, Jackson remained solid as a rock in the minutes he did get. He's a mediocre skater and not as physical as his 6'4" 213 lbs frame might lead you to believe, but we've always liked his straightforward, Nolan Pratt-esque game. The problem is that mediocre skaters on the blueline aren't a perfect fit for Guy Boucher's 1-3-1 system.
17.) D Vladimir Mihalik , Norfolk (AHL)
It took 4 years of professional hockey, but Vladimir Mihalik finally established himself as a fairly steady AHL defenseman this season. He even played with a slightly more physical edge for the first time this year, as evidenced by his career high 107 penalty minutes. So much more was expected from the former 2005 1st round pick, though. His offensive game never really blossomed, and even was cut in half from the previous season due to a diminished role, and we have to wonder aloud if Mihalik may return to Europe next season. It's really hard for us to see a path forward for Mihalik in the Lightning organization, given that mediocre skating defensemen really aren't well suited at all for the 1-3-1.
18.) LW Stefano Giliati , Norfolk (AHL)
A BoltProspects favorite. Acquired as an afterthought in the Matt Lashoff  deal from the Leafs, Giliati may have been ticketed for Florida of the ECHL in the Lightning's original plans. But Giliati won a spot in Norfolk to start the year and held his own with 7 goals and 21 points in 69 games. The undrafted Giliati, who turns 24 in October, has good speed and is a crafty puckhandler. But what we really love is his willingness to throw his little 5'11" 200 lbs frame around in the role of pesky instigator. Good organizations need good character role players like Giliati who play with edge and can occasionally chip in offensively.
19.) G Pat Nagle, Norfolk (AHL)
Bonus pick! Late in the AHL season, the Lightning decided to take a first step in addressing their organizational goaltending depth by signing 23 year old Ferris State goaltender Pat Nagle. Nagle, who won a championship with Admirals Head Coach Jon Cooper with St. Louis of the NAHL, was considered one of the best netminders in the NCAA over the past couple of seasons with a sterling .923 save percentage. Nagle was even one of 68 nominees for the Hobey Baker award earlier in the season, although the team in front of him at Ferris State simply wasn't strong enough to make his candidacy a viable one. Nagle's a big goaltender who primarily plays the butterfly style and is an above average puckhandler. He's not overly quick, but tends to compensate for that with pretty calm positioning. So long as Jon Cooper is in Norfolk, it seems likely Nagle's going to have a powerful advocate looking to give him ice time to develop.
20.) C Brendan O'Donnell , Penticton (BCHL)
The pride of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Brendan O'Donnell took his talents out of the MJHL this year and into the BCHL, which is a storehouse for Western Canadian prospects being groomed for the NCAA. O'Donnell finished second on the Penticton Vees in scoring with 29 goals and 72 points in 58 games. O'Donnell is slated to spend the next few years developing in the top flight North Dakota program in the WCHA. O'Donnell's a solid skater with above average playmaking abilities and an honest 2-way game. Given North Dakota's past success with Winnipeg natives, O'Donnell's in a good spot to continue to grow his game over the next 3-4 seasons.